I’ve never been more conflicted by the outcome of a novel than that of ‘Everything I Never Told You’. The 2014 drama, written by Celeste Ng, centers around a Chinese-American family in the US in 1970s whose middle child, Lydia is found drowned in the town lake; her death uncovers a Pandora’s Box of family issues which are revealed character by character, including a retrospective look at Lydia’s true emotions.

Set in a time when interracial marriages were heavily frowned upon, James and Marilyn Lee and their 3 children Nathan (oldest), Lydia, and Hannah (youngest) are social outcasts in a small town near Virginia. The children, being visibly mixed, with Asian physical traits, and little to no American appearance, are often the subject of stares, whispers in school hallways, and taunts on the street.

I applaud the author’s honesty towards racial discrimination from the view of another minority at this time, besides black/African American, which incidentally led to the entire family dealing with heavy emotional and social issues.

Lydia suffered the pressure of her parents pushing her to achieve the life they never could, to be socially accepted (father) and to become a doctor (mother) which she took on just to please them. They loved her the most because she didn’t look “too Asian” and that meant she had potential, in her parents eyes.

Through Ng’s retrospective narration, he weaves in and out of the seemingly close-knit family’s contradictory emotions, unveiling how much they know nothing about each other. The parents’ doting on the middle child is revealed to have taken a toll on the oldest son, Nathan, and the forgotten youngest daughter, Hannah who grew up to feel and think certain ways about themselves and their family. They were unable to be honest with each other and themselves, unintentionally hurting their family. The reader is left feeling at once sad and angry.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you–whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.” 

I was conflicted because I honestly held high expectations for a blurb that reads like a mystery novel about a death in a quiet little town. I was looking for a dark suspenseful excitement which I never found. Owing to the sick human curiosity towards the occurrence of death, I was conflicted because her death wasn’t a dramatic suicide (Thanks a lot, 13 Reasons Why), or a suspenseful death, but rather, an accidental suicide out of exhaustion, inability to deal with pressure and expectation, and the circumstances of a limited social life.

But, rather, I was met with a subtle tale about a family’s need to fit in, inside and outside of their home, racial division, and inconspicuous sexism; Ng develops the characters so masterfully that that you can’t help but hate one character and come to feel for them at a later time. Nothing is ever as it seems.

Book Details

  • Author: Celeste Ng
  • Published in: 2014
  • Pages: Hardcover, 304 pages